Baby swallowing foreign object. Image Credit: Agency

Abu Dhabi: Over the last two years, a total of 258 cases have been reported in the capital in which children had ingested foreign objects, a doctor said on Thursday.

While coins made up the majority of ingested items, more and more children are swallowing multiple magnets and this can lead to major internal injuries, said Dr Nafea Alyasi, paediatric gastroenterology fellow at the Shaikh Khalifa Medical City.

“In 2018, we saw 14 children who had swallowed magnets, and among them, two children had ingested multiple magnets. They were facing severe abdominal pain and vomiting, and the magnets had to be removed surgically,” Dr Alyasi told Gulf News.

When children turn six months old, they finally learn to grasp things and tend to put everything in their mouths. This is when parents must become especially careful

- Dr Nafea Alyasi

“These magnets are today easily available as toys and children, who ingest them can face obstruction, perforation and ulceration in the stomach and intestines. A lot of children had also swallowed button batteries, and these are just as hazardous,” he added.

Dr Alyasi was speaking on the sidelines of the Elite Paediatric Gastroenterology Conference, which was organised by the Shaikh Khalifa Medical City.

The hospital is the capital’s referral hospital, and all cases of foreign body ingestion are seen and treated there.

About 40 per cent of foreign body ingestion cases reported to the hospital between 2016 and 2018 involved coins. In 16 per cent of cases, children had swallowed button batteries. But there were all manner of others objects as well, including needles, scarf pins and keys. The children were aged between four months and 16 years, Dr Alyasi said.

“When children turn six months old, they finally learn to grasp things and tend to put everything in their mouths. This is when parents must become especially careful,” the doctor advised.

He explained that button batteries can cause severe burning and irritation.

“I conducted a simple experiment by placing a button battery between two pieces of salami, and a coin between two other slices. Within an hour, one could notice a burn on the slices with the battery, and the burn became very pronounced after three hours. Within the human body, this can be extremely damaging and dangerous,” Dr Alyasi said.

This is why doctors must remove an ingested battery that is stuck in the oesophagus within a two-hour window, otherwise it could require advanced surgical repair.

Coins and single magnets, on the other hand, often pass through the intestine on their own.

“The risk arises when these objects block the oesophagus or lead to choking. As for multiple magnets, they stick to one another and can perforate the walls of the intestine, oesophagus or stomach,” he cautioned.

Among older children, the cases of foreign body ingestion can be rather unusual.

“We’ve seen seven to eight cases where 15-year-old girls had ingested scarf pins. In other cases, older children also swallow weird items as a dare. I’ve once seen a 10-year-old girl who had ingested seven coins,” Dr Alyasi said.

The doctor therefore advised parents to rush their children to the emergency department if they suspected that a foreign body had been swallowed.

“We have not faced any fatalities so far, but there have been tragic deaths after children ingested foreign bodies in other countries. We should be careful and prevent this from happening here,” Dr Alyasi said.

What the kids ingested

■ 258 foreign bodies ingested between 2016-2018

■ 40% coins

■ 16% button batteries

■ 0.05% magnets, but this number is on the rise. Of the 14 cases, two involved multiple magnets and had to be dealt with surgically.

■ 7-8 cases of 15-year-old girls ingesting scarf pins

Others cases of needles and keys also reported

What should you do?

Keep toys with small magnets away from children aged four months and older.

Store batteries away from children, and try to ensure that the battery chamber in toys does not open up easily.

If a child starts coughing or choking suddenly, think foreign body ingestion and check for it.

If you suspect that something has been swallowed, rush your child to the hospital without delay. In Abu Dhabi, go to Shaikh Khalifa Medical City. In Al Ain, approach Tawam Hospital, and in Dubai, go to Al Jalila Hospital or Dubai Hospital.

Caution older children against ingesting foreign objects as a dare.

Cases to note

■ A three-year-old ingested a magnet but was not brought in immediately. He developed a severe infection around his lungs and had to be hospitalised for 26 days.

■ A 10-year-old boy ingested two magnets and was facing severe abdominal pain. The objects had to be removed through laparoscopic surgery.

■ A 16-year-old girl accidentally ingested a scarf pin.

Source: Shaikh Khalifa Medical City